A Mindful Solution To The Modern Stress Epidemic With Ruby Wax

Photo of Ruby Wax

“It’s basically now survival of the wisest not survival of the fittest”


The wonderful Ruby Wax joined the PUSH team for Mental Health Awareness week to deliver a hilarious and insightful talk for our clients over at Havas. Following her hugely successful career with BBC television as an interviewer and comedian, Ruby turned her attention to the study of psychotherapy and neuroscience, graduating from Oxford University in 2013 with a Masters’ degree in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy.


We welcome this collaboration because Ruby offers a down to earth, practical, funny and, ultimately, digestible insight into mental health and mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques. Her trailblazing work in challenging perceptions of mental health issues synergizes with our philosophy at PUSH. We’re looking forward to utilizing her wealth of experience and knowledge to help our clients.


So, what did Ruby have to say about our relationship with stress and what’s the antidote?


Stress hasn’t changed. Our relationship to it has


Back in the day, no one died of stress, more likely we died of bad teeth or a spike to the head. In fact we welcomed stress, it quite literally kept us alive and out of danger.  Caveman confronted with saber-toothed tiger equals distress signals to the brain and an activated sympathetic nervous system, pinging them into ‘fight or flight’ mode. Cortisol and adrenaline were released, the heart rate increased, blood pressure and blood sugar rose and – boom – they were given a temporary burst of energy and strength to get the hell out of there.  


Fast forward to today and our lives are very different. No more saber-toothed tigers but instead we have difficult clients, pitch presentations and deadlines but we have exactly the same brain!


It’s the sheer volume that is the real problem. The constant triggering with little time for respite or recovery results in chronic stress and this is a major factor contributing to mental and other health issues.


“The only way to break out of this frenzy of self-loathing is somehow to lower the stress levels so the body can get back to its baseline state, with everything in balance. When you manage to reduce the level of stress, you shift into your opposite system, the parasympathetic nervous system, which lowers your heartbeat and your blood pressure and reroutes energy back into the brain and organs.”


“Mindfulness is associated with increased parasympathetic activity and decreased sympathetic activity…so, really, what I’ve been yapping on about is that by learning to emotionally regulate ourselves through mindfulness practice, we’re rerouting our more primitive actions to the higher brain”


Technology widens the stress network


We invented computers to make our lives easier so we could have more fun and let the computers do all the work. Now we are all pretty sure that computers will get the last laugh.


“In the future computer robots will put our poor mortal human heads in snow globes and give it to each other for Christmas”.


Can anyone say their lives have been simplified by this growing interconnectivity?  


The ‘always on’ mode that technology facilitates adds a layer of virtual stress that simply didn’t exist in the past. Add to that the proven addictive quality of the various social channels, apps and devices we are all enthralled with and it creates a perfect storm for triggering mental health problems. Memory, concentration and focus are the first casualties.  


“…with the advent of digital advertising, we’re being manipulated every second, day and night. We are living in an ‘attention economy’, where admen/women making a living by knowing how to turn our precious commodity – our attention – into hard cash”


You are wherever your mind is


We are all striving for the present moment. We spend time and money investing in luxury holidays, the expensive wine and other material acquisitions and yet are fundamentally unfulfilled. We crave it and yet all too often miss the moment because our minds are elsewhere. While you may physically be on a beautiful sandy beach with a cocktail in hand, if your mind is revisiting the people, politics and pressure of office life you are wasting your annual leave.  


“Most of us spend 50 per cent of our lives mind-wandering; sometimes we have nice thoughts but, mostly they’re negative: rehashing, worrying about that that have or haven’t happened. I figure I’ve missed enough of my life; I don’t want to miss anymore. I practice mindfulness so I can have a front row seat to watch my life with no intervals. You can take as many selfies as you want in front of a chocolate brownie, but nothing compares to that firecracker going off inside, blasting our pure pleasure dust, when you’ve got that brownie in your mouth. We live for the moment, but no one tells us how to get there. Mindfulness trains you to stop and smell the roses”


So, what can we all do? Ruby tells us,


“Someone wise once said, you can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf them “


“Current research shows that, with the practice of mindfulness, we can change the inner landscape of our brains to improve, among other things, the immune system, and resistance to depression, and to lower the risk of heart disease and enhance wellbeing. The research shows that it also gains positive results in helping us to manage our feelings and be able to take charge.”


“Sometimes when I’m practising mindfulness, a fantastic idea bubbles out of the darkness to the surface and I sit there like an insane person, laughing out loud. As soon as I’m done, I grab a pen to get it down fast before it sinks back into the murk. Mindfulness isn’t about sitting like a dead, frozen fish, you’re there observing your thoughts, and with time it should become easier to discriminate between which thoughts are winners and which and dross to be flushed out on arrival.”


We’re so incredibly excited about this partnership and have a lot of plans in place. Watch this space for how this partnership will unfold next!


Ruby Wax explains more about how mindfulness and cognitive therapy gives us a chance to manage our stress in her books, ‘A mindfulness guide for the frazzled’ and ‘How to be Human. Talk to us about mindful brain training for your company – get in touch.